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Having failed to persuade Chiang Kai-shek to abandon war with the communists and instead unite to fight Japan, Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng finally opted for force and captured Chiang in the Xi'An Incident, not releasing him until he had agreed to fight Japan alongside the CCP. In the aftermath, both were arrested by Chiang. Over a decade later, when the KMT retreated to Taiwan after the Chinese civil war, Zhang was taken along as well and continued in captivity for several more decades, while Yang was executed.

What reasons have been given by historians to explain why they received different punishments? Did the KMT give any explanation of why they imprisoned one but executed the other?

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There were a couple reasons. The first was that Yan Hucheng was a "bandit" with no real family connections, while Zhang Xueliang was from a well-connected family. The second and related reason was that Zhang's father, Zhang Cuolin had been killed resisting the Japanese in Manchuria. Thu,s Zhang Xueliang's actions against Chiang Kaishek to force him to fight Japan could be explained as an act of "filial piety," while Yan Hucheng had no such excuse.

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Can you cite sources? I'm a bit skeptical that Zhang's connections would have spoken up for him over a decade after he lost power. Is there evidence of any who pled his case? Or is it more to do with Chiang fearing repercussions from these connections should Zhang be executed? –  lins314159 Dec 10 '11 at 0:00
    
@lins314159: I know from this source that Yang hu cheng was regarded as "bandit." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yang_Hucheng. I also know that Zhang Xue Liang inherited his position from his father. As a Chinese-American, I know that many Chinese pay a lot of attention to family background. This appears to be particularly true of Chiang Kai Shek who "married well" and through his life, shunned people of "humble" background. –  Tom Au Dec 11 '11 at 18:53
    
his wife and children killed too? –  Jim Thio Mar 31 '12 at 9:09
    
@JimThio: Would not surprise me. Chinese kings often killed whole families so that no one would take revenge on them. And Chiang Kai Shek was a "king." –  Tom Au Mar 31 '12 at 15:49
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It's probably because Yang could have found to have Communist sympathies more so than Zhang Xueliang.

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Welcome to History SE! Do you have any sources for this statement? –  American Luke Nov 8 '12 at 13:18
    
Downvote....... –  Felix Goldberg Feb 20 '13 at 0:40
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